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Written By: - Date published: 1:00 pm, September 17th, 2009 - 66 comments
Categories: local government, racism - Tags:

Here’s something to look forward to New Zealand. Another round of that trumped up little egotist stirring racist populism to get himself in the news.

66 comments on “Whanganui ”

  1. coge 1

    So, are you are calling the people of Wanganui racist? (in a round about way)

    • snoozer 1.1

      As we all know, the Right has, at times, harnessed a latent racism that runs deep in parts of this culture. We saw it with National’s Iwi/Kiwi and we see it in everything Lhaws does.

  2. Pascal's bookie 2

    That’ll be unsettling for some.

  3. Lew 3

    With any luck he’ll form a political party and contest the 2011 election.


  4. Didn’t the people vote to keep the spelling the way it was?

    • toad 4.1

      So bloody what. The evidence is that it is wrong.

      Evidence or racist populism, Brett? Which side are you on?

      • Lew 4.1.1

        Maybe we should have a vote on whether Brett’s name should be spelt ‘Brrt’.

        It’s got onomatopoeic value, and after all, if lots of people think something should be so, it must be, mustn’t it?


        • Maynard J

          In Brett’s honour, I propose that we vote whether you should say “should of” instead of “should have”.

          • Lew

            Come on, MJ, don’t be so hard on him. He’s made huge progress in the last year – using apostrophes and everything now.


        • lprent

          Come on now… Brrttt (opps) Breet deserves to have the correct spelling of his name, as surely as my name is Lyn, Lynne, or Lin….

          I’d usually expect the name to be spelled the way of whomever gave it. I wouldn’t consider contradicting Brrrreeeeetttttttttt’s mother….

      • Daveski 4.1.2

        We’re all for democracy on this site Toad – you know “democracy under attack” and all that.

        • toad

          Yes, democracy is under attack in Auckland Daveski.

          But democracy is not about some creepy little bigot running a plebicite after stirring up racist populism in Whanganui.

          • Daveski

            Don’t get me wrong toad – i very much enjoy your posts here and on Channel 2 and you seem to be both well connected and have well thought out positions.

            However, in this case, you seem to show a bit of the arrogance and superiority with the liberal left – the people choose but only when we let them choose.

            Personally, I have no view on the super shitty (long time since I left AK) but would have liked to see Maori seats. Happy to see Whanganui.

            But if you think it’s only right that the majority can decide whether to proceed with the super city then you should have no issue with the majority deciding other matters of concern.

            My view is that is what Governments are elected to do – make decisions.

      • jagilby 4.1.3

        I think this is all a massive waste of time, effort and money, however…

        Correct me if I am wrong but wasn’t Maori an oral language prior to the settlor’s arrival – in which case how can there be any evidence suggesting the spelling of the name being correct or incorrect – surely any Maori spelling is going to come down to phonetics?

        • Lew

          jagilby, I covered this in my submission to the NZGB.


          The spelling of the name of the pre-European settlement has been determined by the legitimate authority, Te Taura Whiri Reo Māori, to be ‘Whanganui’; this is the spelling of the name of the river on whose mouth the city is located, the spelling of which was previously agreed by both Māori and Pākehā residents […] if the word is not a Māori word, then the local iwi’s pronunciation is irrelevant. If it is, then Pākehā have no right to redefine it without the consent of iwi. The Māori language is clearly included in the meaning of ‘tāonga katoa’ as used in Te Tiriti o Waitangi (article 2) and rights to possession (‘rangatiratanga’) are similarly guaranteed.

          So, no.


          • Lew

            Bah, and missed out the last bit …

            the claim that local Māori pronunciation renders the ‘h’ silent is no cause for the word to be spelt differently except with the consent of those with the original claim to the word and its pronunciation. There are precedents for this among other iwi/hapÅ« and in other rohe for example, the rendition of ‘ng’ as ‘k’ by some Kāi Tahu/Ngāi Tahu, as in ‘Aoraki’ rather than ‘Aorangi’. But in the case in point, those who are legitimately entitled under the Treaty to claim that ‘Whanganui’ should be pronounced ‘Wanganui’ as a matter of preserving their control over their tāonga are not doing so; in fact, quite the opposite. Te RÅ«nanga o Tupoho, a subset of the very people whose consent should be required to retain the spelling as ‘Wanganui’, is campaigning for the change to ‘Whanganui’. Likewise Wanganui residents who complain that they don’t want their city’s name pronounced ‘Fonganui’ are, with due respect, not legitimately entitled to change or retain a spelling for that purpose without the consent of those for whom the name is tāonga, and whose possession is guaranteed by the Treaty.


          • jagilby

            Thanks Lew for clearing that up. Just wasn’t sure. Makes sense if they agreed on words to use them.

            In any case I fail to see how this has suddenly become such an emotive issue nearly 170 years after the fact. With all due respect I think that Maoridom are facing far more pressing issues that don’t seem to elicit the same level of raw emotion. Anecdotally (through talking to Maori friends of mine etc) this is as much a frustration of Maori as it is the rest of the country… when will we stop placing so much focus on these minor issues?

            “They don’t have different versions of written english for all the various ways she is spake throughout the world.The written version is fairly consistent.”

            Sure but that was my point, My understanding was that Maori was an oral language, the same can’t be said for English (so I think you’re really grasping straws to link the two) – unless you are saying that Maori also developed the English alphabet through pure coincidence? The only way to initially derive a written Maori language surely must have been to use phonetics – as Lew pointed out with spellings being mutually agreed between Maori and Pakeha. The only thing I found interesting about your allusion to accents in this instance was the fact tha some have actually argued that it was the local W-h-anganui dialect the confused the spelling in the first place.

            What I really can’t understand out of this whole affair though is that, of the 889 submissions received by the NZGB, 9 were neutral. Who goes to all the trouble/ has time to write a neutral submission???

            capcha: thoughts

            • Lew


              It’s always been an important issue, and people who care strongly about it have been using ‘Whanganui’ for decades (even though sometimes it means their mail ends up in Whangarei). It’s just only really come to a head now because people have only now exercised their access to the proper channels.

              Māori was an oral language, but it was quite quickly codified into a written orthography — several times, though the definitive one is H.W Williams’ A Dictionary of the Māori Language (1844), in which both the words ‘whanga’ and ‘nui’ were included with those spellings. The language was rendered into written form according to a systematic process, as languages are – it wasn’t random or full of exceptions and oddities. The words have their ordinary meaning in the name, so there’s no reason at all why they shouldn’t have their ordinary spelling.


        • Pascal's bookie

          They don’t have different versions of written english for all the various ways she is spake throughout the world.The written version is fairly consistent.

          ‘Wanga’ as a part of the written version of the language doesn’t mean anything, it isn’t a word.

          • jagilby


            Thanks for the explainations. Very informative.

            I don’t dispute it is/was an issue… its relative importance as an issue, well I’m afraid that is something that that I dispute.
            I just can’t believe that we are quite literally arguing semantics given all the other problems we face currently.

  5. gobsmacked 5

    Discussion on Radio Live: it’s classic Key-speak (i.e. barely intelligible, because clarity is the enemy of popularity), but it sounds like he’s backing Laws:

    MICHAEL LAWS: Well you know you may actually or your Government – well as you know will be the final arbiter on that. What’s your view of local democracy?

    JOHN KEY: Yeah, well we try and listen to local people where we can. The – I don’t know, it’s a bit of an interesting debate, isn’t it?

    MICHAEL LAWS: Well seriously – I just, you know, I didn’t mean to talk about that this morning but it will come to you, it will come to the Government because the final decision’s not made by the New Zealand Geographic Board.

    But four out of five Wanganui people voted – at the referendum this year, I think 19,000 people voted, and 80 per cent of them said listen, keep things as they are. Is that persuasive for you?

    JOHN KEY: Yeah, well, it sounds like a pretty strong argument. I haven’t waded my way through the whole thing other than just sort of occasionally hearing it, you know, bubbling along in the background. But, yeah, I mean in the end it should be ultimately the decision I would have thought for local people.

    MICHAEL LAWS: Thank you. I’m delighted to hear that.

    • Tigger 5.1

      “Yeah, well we try and listen to local people where we can.”

      Except in Auckland.

    • Luxated 5.2

      Did either Laws or Key manage a single intelligible sentence in that conversation?

      Oh and in honour of Michael Laws’ insistence on incorrect spelling he shall henceforth be referred to as: Mikael Laus, Mare of Wanganui (until he learns to spell at which point Michael Laws, Mayor of Whanganui will be appropriate once more).

  6. vidiot 6

    Rumour has it that Law’s is moving around the council buildings removing the H key from every keyboard he can find.

    • lprent 6.1


      Seems as sensible as banning gang patches and about as useful as making pi=3.0

      But then hick legislators are good at representing their electorates………. Apologies in advance to Lew and others associated with the city…

  7. Chris 7

    It’s Lhaws and not Laws.

  8. gobsmacked 8

    Here’s a story to cause confusion. It only works on radio, but it made me chuckle:

    Radio NZ headline:

    “Mair thrilled by decision to put the ‘h’ into Wanganui”


  9. So Bored 9

    My name originates in France. When a Maori, Eskimo or Ethiopian etc spells or pronounces my name wrongly I politely correct them. I dont however give them the privelege of telling me how it really should be. Its mine and from my culture. Even if there are 4 Eskimos arguing I am wrong versus me (80% versus 20%) they are still wrong.

    What about Whanganui belonging to Maori language and culture does Laws not understand? Who knows if Laws is racist? He is definitely ignorant.

  10. I can’t help agreeing with Dr Grant – Whanganui was incorrectly spelt and and its misspelling offended the speakers of the language ‘lending’ the name. Mr Laws needs to take a deep breath and ponder….but, on reflection, it is a vain hope.

    And perhaps Mr Key should remain silent on these things until briefed – one can see another clash with the Maori Party heading over the horizon if his government bends to Mr Laws’ position. And Mr Williamson is an ideal minister to make the final decision…..noted for his guarded prudence…..

  11. sk 11

    what a dumb-assed comment from the PM. Maori is one of New Zealand’s national languages, therefore maori place names should be spelt correctly. It is beyond belief that this is an issue.

    Use of a national language is not a matter for local referenda . ..

  12. vidiot 12

    So if the H is brought in, how much will that little exercise cost and who carries the bill ?

    a) All Road Signs in Area
    b) All Street Maps
    c) All Local Business – Change letter head, business cards, etc
    d) GPS applications
    e) All Companies that correspond with people in the area

    One of the Massey Uni boffins should do a costing exercise, if it turns out that it will cost tens of millions of dollars (which it will do), just flick a couple of hundred $K at the local Iwi instead as settlement of the ‘grievance’.

    It’s in times like these where we need to cut all frivolous expenditure.

    • felix 12.1

      Why would all the road signs in the area need replacing? Are all the roads being renamed to “Whanganui St”?

      Won’t that be confusing?

      • vidiot 12.1.1

        Think of the bigger signs –

        Wanganui 20Kms
        Mt Egmont 35Kms
        Bulls 50Kms

        The ones that litter our country side telling you how far to travel to paradise.

        • Armchair Critic

          Or the various affected parties could just update their bits and pieces as they fall due for replacement. Road signs are crashed into or vandalised regularly, businesses use their stationery up and re-order more, GPS applications are updated all the time, it doesn’t have to be a biggie.

        • Maynard J

          Mt Egmont eh? Funny you mention that. Somehow we have managed to rename that and not go broke.

      • Maynard J 12.1.2

        “Why would all the road signs in the area need replacing? Are all the roads being renamed to “Whanganui St’?

        Won’t that be confusing?”

        Funiest post I have read today 🙂

        And yes, but it would be worth it to irritate Lhaws.

    • toad 12.2

      The District Council should send the bill to Double Dipton, vidiot.

      I’m sure his accommodation expenses will cover it, because road signs are the only ones that probably need attention immediately. Changing web presence costs stuff all, and the rest like letterheads can wait until existing stock runs out. As for businesses, well, it’s up to them. I can’t imagine anythign is going to go astray if they don’t use the “h”.

  13. exbrethren 13

    Michael (silent h there) Laws is a total whanker

  14. burt 14

    Re: the “Wh”.

    Way back in the 70’s I was fortunate enough to be in the middle of nowhere camping with a group of people which included a few Maori elders. I was young and these old chaps and I spent a few nights sitting around the fire talking shit about NZ, the stars and the stories of the past. I heard some really interesting stories in the timeless word of mouth fashion that legends are passed down via.

    During one conversation I asked about the ‘wh’ sound and one of the old boys told me to stop talking like a educated white boy. He said to me;

    Back when he was skipping off school speaking Maori in school earned you the cane. He also went on to say that having no written language the spelling of Maori words was entirely at the discretion of the English who were arrogant as hell about their language. He asked me – Do you really think that the arrogant English would have invented a new language construct to represent a sound they heard when that sound as spoken today was already well covered by the “ph” or “f” sound ?

    He said the words were different from place to place anyway, and that the whole “wh” nonsense was getting out of hand. (remember this was the 70’s…)

    I’m in no way saying having ‘wh’ is wrong for Whanganui, because the owners of that word/name have the right to dictate how it we should say and spell it – but that old boys words stuck with me at the time and ever since then I’ve wondered who really is right and wrong here.

  15. Toad

    Im on the side of the people, if they voted for the H, put it in, if the whole country had a vote to change the name of New Zealand to Aotearoa, and people voted for change, I say change it.

    If 80% of people in a town vote for something, then do it, I dont think outsiders to the town should have a say, its about community.

  16. jabba 16

    lets see .. 170 or so years ago, some white guys turn up on the West Coast by a river and meet some local Maori and say “hi, my names Jon (or is it John), this is a nice place, what’s it called?” .. Wanganui they say .. really, how do you spell that? .. buggered if I know they say .. well then, says Jon, (or is it John), how about if we spell it Wanganui? .. looks ok to us say the locals and there we have it, simple.
    BUT, there is always a but, a decade or so later, white guys and brown guys meet up and somewhere (maybe Petone which could be next) and get talking over some rum and roast kumera and they all notice that the Wanganui Maori talk funny .. or is it the other Maori talk funny (hard for me to know because I wasn’t there) anyway, they have a chat and decide that maybe there could be a translation problem. Now, from I have read, the Wanganui Maori were beaten up by both the Poms and fellow Maori during the wars so it was determind that the Wanganui tribes can’t speak properly so they lose again. Maybe if they were stronger, we would have Wangarei and Wakatane etc .. there you go, an alternative version and who was actually there to say I’m wrong.
    gee I hear you say .. racist redneck.
    ps .. couldn’t be bothered with all the ” ” and ?’s.

  17. Kiwi_busa 17

    It is amazing what makes the news these days, hasn’t NZ got bigger issues to deal with than to worry whether we have an “H” or not in Wanganui?

    • Armchair Critic 17.1

      Are you referring to the important decision on what flag to fly on the harbour bridge?

    • Pascal's bookie 17.2

      “hasn’t NZ got bigger issues to deal with than to worry whether we have an “H’ or not in Wanganui?”

      Yep. Laws should stop being so angry and sort out the many other problems in Whanganui instead of wasting his time defending a spelling mistake.

  18. jabba 18

    So Bored .. what is the correct pronounciation of Wanganui .. what about Whanau.
    It would be good for you to compare with say Ms Turia. I wonder if you would be happy to be corrected and pronounce such words her way in future.

    • Lew 18.1

      jabba: What’s the correct pronunciation of ‘route’? Or ‘tomato’? Depends on the dialect of who’s talking.


      • burt 18.1.1


        This is a good point but as an argument it falls down. There was only one dialect involved in the creation of the written Maori language over a few short years.

        • Lew

          burt, I don’t see the point you’re making. Is it that the Wiremu-based orthography in current use does not represent the Whanganui dialect? If so, that is a matter for the Whanganui iwi to take up — not a bunch of latter-day settlers who don’t speak the dialect anyway (bar one word of it which they perversely claim isn’t a Māori word anyhow).

          The people whose dialect it is (that is, those who are guaranteed ‘possession’ of it under Article 2 of the Treaty) have made their decision. That’s the core rebuttal of all dialect-based arguments against Whanganui.


        • burt


          I think we are saying the same thing in different ways. I have no issues with the ‘h’. Really as far as I can see it’s the right of the people who claim ownership of the name to describe how it is said and ultimately how we should spell it.

          I totally agree that the same words are said differently in different dialects and believe that was the case in NZ with Maori in the 1800’s. For some reason now we need to standardise it – this I disagree with. I don’t think it’s likely the English wrote down anything other than what they heard at the time and therefore separate dialects may not be adequately catered for with a single spelling as defined by a small group of 1800’s English speakers.

          As far as I’m concerned if some Maori want to say ‘Wanau’ and others ‘Fanau’ then so what. Who are we to say that because it is starts with ‘Wh’ if must be said ‘Fa’ when we don’t allow alternate spellings.

    • So Bored 18.2

      Even though I dont particularly like her, I certainly would take her advice and be happy to be corrected. Its her language, not mine.

  19. jabba 20

    thank god for Lew .. you are so right.
    can you imagine a bloke from Liverpool going to any town/city in Yorkshire and telling the locals they don’t pronounce English correctly? bif/bash/smack.
    What you are saying is the crux of what the problem is. The variation on how to say English words is hard enough so how an I suppose to get Maori correct when they can’t get it it the same themselves .. we need more Lews.

    • Lew 20.1

      Jabba, try to keep up. If you don’t know how to pronounce or spell a language, leave it to those what do.

      Honestly. It’s not rocket surgery.


    • lprent 20.2

      Or Rochelle’s. She routinely corrects her Maori surrogate fathers pronunciation with the full blessing of his mother and family. Lyn thinks that my spoken english is terrible because I know the words, their meaning, but I’ve only ever seen them written. I seem to be under tuition during most discussions with her.

      On the other hand, I’m a master of the computer dialects. I lost count of how many I knew in my 20’s at about 45, and I routinely pick up 4 or 5 per year. I just finished sucking up python which took about 5 days to go from ignorance to literate. Next up is the WPF language xaml because I need to get directx into web pages.

      Different people, different skills.

  20. jabba 21

    JP .. it’s Kenneth

  21. peterlepaysan 22

    “Correct” spelling can only exist if there is an existing written language. Even then correct spelling is contentious.

    Maori was never a written language. It cannot therefore have a spelling.

    All languages in constant and useful use are always changing in pronunciation,
    and, if written, changing in spelling..

    All languages, worldwide, have undergone huge changes in word adoption, adaptation, pronunciation and (God help us,spelling).

    All languages have dialectical differences.

    Spelling does not change pronunciation.

    The way most pakeha pronounce “Taupo” or “Tauranga” is not the way most Maori
    pronounce it (depending which part of the country they come from ,of course.)

    In culturally secure countries pronunciation, let alone spelling , is a non event.

    This whole topic is about Ken Mair trying to make himself important.

    • Lew 22.1

      Peter, this issue rests on the question “When was the Māori language?”

      The answer is that it is. Māori was not a written language, but it is one now (and has been one for almost a couple hundred years). There is now a universally-accepted orthography and lexicography, and a huge amount of documentation establishing the provenance and correctness of same. It is one of the most thoroughly-documented and well-used indigenous minority languages in the world. There is quite literally no credible dissent to these well-established norms. Under this system, there is one (1) spelling of the word meaning ‘big harbour’ after which the city at the mouth of the river of the same name was called, and it has an h in it.

      This is not some countercultural mumbo-jumbo; this is quite simply how language works.

      But, hey — it’s cool, if it gets your wheels spinning, keep at it. Your (and Michael Laws’) position is simply not supported by evidence. The more you keep at it, the more obvious you make this. Please — have at it.


    • lprent 22.2

      Peter: So? Your argument shows an abysmal ignorance of the history of the english written language.

      On that basis you’d also say that english has the same issue. It wasn’t formalised until the 18th century when the first dictionaries were written. Less than a century before Maori.

      It wasn’t until the 16th century that any significant body of written literature emerged in english. It is largely unreadable to any modern reader because the spelling was pretty much up to the taste of the author. I’d suggest having a look in the rare books section of your local university or major public library.

      English was and still is an oral language. The biggest group of english speakers in world are in the indian subcontinent. While they can out-talk almost any group that I know, it is as hard to understand them as it is to understand someone from Alabama.

      The biggest written language in the world, Mandarin bears little resemblance to the spoken form of the language. For that matter the most ancient written languages in the western world like Latin and classical Greek show the same characteristics. We can read them, but we have no idea about how they were spoken – just a lot of guesswork.

      Written languages only have a passing relationship with the spoken. What we are talking about here is a written bastardization of a place name by mapmakers who couldn’t ‘hear’ how the locals pronounced a name. Since it is a local Maori name, they should be able to determine the spelling.

      Your arguments are just spurious. You claim an authority that simply doesn’t exist, about something you know little about. Personally I just ascribe it to an inherent mindless bigotry.

    • burt 22.3


      In culturally secure countries pronunciation, let alone spelling , is a non event.

      I think spelling for place names is important. Spelling on maps and road signs is a proxy for the authoritative source of the spelling.

      Pronunciation on the other hand, with you on that, being anal against different dialects is IMHO a sign of cultural immaturity.

      • lprent 22.3.1

        Yep… There is a reason for having an authoritative name for people, things and places. Personally I always pronounce Onehunga as One-hung-a and I won’t even attempt to to describe how I pronounce Newton or Ponsonby.

        • felix

          …I won’t even attempt to to describe how I pronounce Newton or Ponsonby.

          This I want to know.

    • Spectator 22.4

      “Maori was never a written language.”

      This assertion is simply not true. Maori is a written language and has been since the early 19th century.

  22. jabba 23

    oh lew lew lew ,, Maori pronounce their own language with all sorts of variations but I guess you know best.

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